Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Chomsky Epiphany

For the average American (based on the outcome of the last few elections) the British "Guardian" newspaper is a brazen left-wing, U.S.-bashing, sack of socialist apologetics and moral equivalence. It's also lively and often thoughtful in a way few American papers can match.

So, considering how much the "Guardian" and Noam Chomsky have in common in their views of the world, it's surprising to me how poorly they get along. I suspect Chomsky, in his purity, regards the "Guardian" as part of what he calls "the so-called left."

Last year, the paper sent a reporter, Emma Brockes, to do an interview with The Great Man, and even amid her generally sympathetic presentation of his ideas, Chomsky claimed he'd been grossly misrepresented and demanded a retraction and an apology. He got it, but it was widely perceived that the paper had allowed itself to be bullied.

So I wonder what he'll make of this?

The "Guardian" didn't send some softball-pitch reporter out this time. It turned loose a heavy-hitter, in Peter Beaumont, on Chomsky's new book. If this was a belated push-back for the Brockes affair, it's probably too late to redeem anyone's honor. But it's a fun read nonetheless.

Beaumont hits on one of the essential things about Chomsky: the critique he makes of various media powerhouses is a rigorous and workable one that can be applied to any media force -- including Chomsky:

Reading Failed States, I had an epiphany: that by applying a Chomskian analysis to his own writing, you discover exactly the same subtle textual biases, evasions and elisions of meaning as used by those he calls 'the doctrinal managers' of the 'powerful elites'. The mighty Chomsky, the world's greatest public intellectual, is prone to playing fast and loose.

Mr. Beaumont, welcome to the club. After writing this, I see longtime Chomsky-watcher Oliver Kamm also picked this out as the key quote.

Speaking of speaking truth to power, Beaumont in his conclusion delivers the kind of dressing down The Great Man deserves. Even though I'm sure it won't stick (the pure don't have epiphanies), it's a pleasure to read:

Which leads to a question: is that really what you see, Mr Chomsky, from the window of your library at MIT? Is it the stench of the gulag wafting over the Charles River? Do you walk in fear of persecution and murder for expressing your dissident views? Or do you make a damn good living out of it? The faults of the Bush administration will not be changed by books such as Failed States. They will be swept away by ordinary, decent Americans in the world's greatest - if flawed and selfish - democracy going to the polls.

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